From Ken Ohrn:


… or is that on the broken record.  For those unfamiliar with the world of vinyl LP records, when one is broken or badly scratched, it may lock into one groove and so repeat the same short snippet indefinitely. “Bike share any time now …  fff-thup ….  bike share any time now …  fff-thup ….  ”

Here’s Vancouver’s acting city manager Sadhu Johnston with Mike Howell of the Courier.


We’ve heard for several years now that Vancouver is getting a bike share system. In fact, one was supposed to be in place last year. Is Vancouver ever going to get a bike share program?

It’s definitely going to happen, we’re very committed to doing it. It’s been a council objective for a long time. We did a procurement process, selected vendors that eventually went bankrupt and then the other one changed ownership. So it certainly hasn’t been an easy process. Many other cities that we’ve talked to have gone through multiple rounds of procurement.  The fact that we didn’t get it, in a way, is a bit of an opportunity because this new “smart bike” technology is coming out, which is pretty unique and perhaps provides an opportunity to leapfrog some of the other large systems in North America.

So do you have a company in mind?

We’re evaluating proposals right now and are in discussions with the top two vendors. We are hoping for a 2016 rollout”


Mr. Howell did not ask about the next major issue (after finding a viable vendor), which is the economics.  The economics depend heavily on a helmet solution (technical, procedural, striking down the mandatory helmet law, or creating an exemption).  The other half is a sponsor.  Deafening silence on this front, despite the huge amounts of money washing around the city.

Note Mr. Johnston’s reference to “smart bike” technology, which recently surfaced in Portland’s new bike share system.  (John Metcalfe writes in The Atlantic’s Citylab on “Biketown”, Portland’s new tech direction in bike-share systems. )

Starting with 1000 smart bikes and $ 10M, 5-year sponsorship by Nike,  the system does not use gadget-packed docking stations.  Instead, the required electronics are integral to the bike itself.  Starting with only 1000 bikes, the system will be run by Motivate, who also run New York, Chicago, Boston, Toronto and several other more traditional bike-share operations.

The bike system’s source is Sobi (“Social Bicycles”).  The bikes can be picked up at hubs (which look like existing Vancouver bike corrals), and dropped off there; or simply locked up somewhere in the system area, and picked up there too. It’s all accessible through a smartphone app (surprise!).

Sobi bikes are in use in Hamilton and Ottawa, Ontario, among 13 other locations. Sobi claims their system is lower in capital cost, since there are no docking stations. Operating costs should be similar, with the added complication that re-positioning may be more time-consuming, since a bike might be anywhere.

Note that, in Hamilton at least, locking the bike to a non-hub location attracts a $1 “convenience” fee; locking the bike outside the “system area” attracts a $100 “recovery penalty”.  Ottawa and Long Beach have a similar, but lower, location-based fee structure to encourage leaving bikes at hubs.

The nature of the system precludes an integrated helmet solution, which will be a major challenge for Vancouver.  Perhaps it’s time for the Provincial Government and City to work out a solution, in the form of a waiver of mandatory helmet usage, or (best of all) to strike down that law. It’s worth noting that there are waivers and exceptions currently in place in the Motor Vehicle Act, both for bike helmets (pedicabs, medical, religious) and motor vehicle seat belts.